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Come April and appraisals stare you in the face. And the best time to start preparing for them is now. Don't wait for the last minute -- it will only make you more anxious. Remember, the right attitude and the right preparation can help your appraisal go smoothly.

Many people dread their performance appraisal. But it shouldn't be like that. To bolster your chances for a good review and a potential raise or advancement, solid year-round preparation is critical.


Ongoing process

Performance appraisals should be an ongoing developmental process, instead of a formal once-a-year review. It must be closely monitored by both the employee and reviewer to make sure targets are being met. By preparing yourself diligently all through the year, and demonstrating cooperation with your reviewer to develop your role, you will create a positive impression.

Keep your eyes open all year for things you can list as accomplishments on your review. Take courses. Keep abreast with emerging technology to impress your boss. If opportunities to broaden your knowledge/ skills come up during the year, don't wait for your supervisor's invitation to take advantage of them.

You need to move purposefully through your career. You have to continuously show a sense of lifelong learning.

Unfair appraisal last year?

Performance appraisals often are not exactly what we expect or want. Frequently, the emphasis tends to be on what you did not do or what you did wrong, rather than on accomplishments. Somehow, your boss may have a tendency to let the negative dominate.

Your last appraisal is history. However, your next appraisal is still in the future and you can do a lot to influence what your boss has to say then.

Dissecting your last appraisal

Look at the method by which you were rated. List the areas that seem to be important to your boss. Consider your performance over the last year and plan accordingly for the next year:

*What have you done well?
*How could your performance be improved?
*Were there any organisational/ management issues that affected your performance?
*How could these be resolved?
*How well did you contribute to the performance of your team?
*Were your training and development needs met?
*What are your continuing development needs with respect to your job?
*How will they be met?
*What are your long-term career goals?
*Prepare for your next appraisal

In order to assess your own performance objectively, try viewing it from your manager's perspective. Be conversant with the company's assessment policies and study the performance appraisal documentation carefully. Go through it step-by-step, anticipating comments and preparing your responses.

Understand your main role. What knowledge, skills and attitude do you need to be successful? Quantify your achievements as far as possible and document how they have contributed to the organisation's success. What has gone less well? What can you do better?

Document your difficulties as and when you encounter them all through the year. This way, come appraisal time, you will be in a position to discuss them authoritatively.

Think about the future.

How would you like your career to progress? What experience, knowledge, skills and attitude do you require to develop to help you achieve your goals? What support do you need from your manager, your colleagues and your company to improve your current job performance? What additional responsibilities would you like to take that will help you develop professionally?

Speak up about your accomplishments

Most performance reviews include a self-appraisal section where you should enumerate your year-long successes. People often have a really hard time talking about themselves in a positive way. This is a business exchange. These are things you've worked hard for, and you want to bring them to the table.

Compile documentary evidence to support your assertions, eg e-mails, letters, press releases, newspaper articles, testimonials, etc. Make a list of all conferences, seminars and training courses you've attended.

Brush up your negotiating skills
Preparation is the key if you're aiming for a raise or a promotion. Read up on negotiating strategies. Ask your boss about your company's promotion policy, so you can gain the knowledge and experience required to advance. Also, ask your boss how he/ she moved up in the company and about the challenges he/ she overcame.

Take the positive and the negative
Even with all your preparation, your performance appraisal is unlikely to be entirely positive. Obviously, whoever is doing your review will look for both strengths and weaknessesi. The employee must be prepared for that and say how they plan to improve. Don't react emotionally to the negatives -- remaining businesslike throughout the review is important.

Make specific, measurable, realistic goals

Make a list of things you plan to accomplish prior to the next appraisal period. Put it in writing. Each item on your list should be specific, measurable and realistic.

For example, if you want to improve the number of times you come to work late, you can state it as: "Reduce the number of days I am late for work to no more than two per month". This is both specific and measurable.

To be realistic, the goal should be something you have to stretch for, to attain, but it should not be something you have to kill yourself to accomplish.

How your boss can help

Ask your boss to block some quiet time when he/ she will not be interrupted as you have something important to discuss with him/ her. Start the discussion by expressing concern with your last appraisal.

Take care not to attack your boss or criticise the previous appraisal. Be open and cooperative. Acknowledge problems and deal positively and maturely with criticism. Avoid giving the impression that you're on the defensive. It's better to downplay the previous appraisal and concentrate on ways of making the next one better.

Reach an agreement with your boss

Discuss with your boss the list of goals you have made for the next period. Give him/ her a chance to indicate if your list needs to be modified. The final list should be jointly compiled. Ask for clarifications wherever necessary. If you feel that targets are unrealistic, say so sensitively.

Agree upon when your progress towards your goals will be measured and how the results will be reported. This will help ensure your next performance appraisal will be based on objective and documented data.

By putting your goals in writing, and making them specific, measurable, and realistic, you will be indirectly teaching your boss to appraise you more objectively without even mentioning the fact that his/her last appraisal was subjective and undocumented. Remember, the key is to keep the conversation future-oriented.

Follow-up

Keep a file to remind you of the dates on which to measure progress on your goals. After checking it, report to your boss to keep him/ her informed of your progress. This will demonstrate you are seriously working towards the goals. It will also subtly remind your boss of his/ her obligation to do his/ her part of the reporting.

We all perform to the best of our ability when we know exactly what is expected of us, when we know we are valued and supported, when we know where we are going, and when we receive regular feedback on our progress.

Improving your performance appraisal need not be left to chance. You can play an active role. Make appraisals your friend by preparing for them beforehand. Your time starts now.
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